The Olympics and other major sporting jamborees are known to start controversies much before the ceremonial torch is lit. The Winter Olympics, to take off in February in the Russian city of Sochi, have been drawing flak for very interesting reasons. From militant threats to protests, and rights of the queer to weather, the Black Sea resort city has been in the headlines through much of last year.
As is his wont, Vladimir Putin set the cat among the pigeons a number of times last year by saying and doing things that sounded inconsistent going by the spirit of the Olympics. Protests — something anathema to Putin — was one area that drew most attention across the world. But in the end, he is going to allow restricted demonstrations, which, should not be joined by more than 100 people.
The issue of people of unconventional orientation coming to watch the Games has been talked about for more than an year. Putin has had his own controversial take on that.
The former KGB director, with his steely looks, also released former Yukos oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and two woman punk band Pussy Riot members from prison. This was seen as a masterstroke by the clever statesman who has been under pressure from the West over human rights and free speech in the country that stretches thousands of kilometers from Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the east.
Yesterday, social media in the country went up in guffaws after photos of two toilet seats at a Sochi Games facility went viral on Twitter. The toilet, to be used by two people side-by-side sent opposition leader Alexie Navalny into an overdrive. “This is a men’s toilet in a Sochi Olympics media centre for 1.5bn roubles,” tweeted Navalny, making no secret of his derision.
The twin seats in Putin’s Russia can be compared to collective toilet facilities for kids in communist East Germany. The ‘potty breaks’ taken by kids who sat together and got up together were linked by criminologists to a spurt in crime in East Germany after reunification.
Because of a slew of rows, the Sochi Winter Games have become known more for non-sporting incidents than for the disciplines planned. Islamist militants from the volatile north Caucasus have threatened to launch attacks that put the security forces on high alert. There have been a number of suicide attacks in the region contiguous with Sochi. In a sign of reined in panic, Moscow seems desperate to ward of any terror threat from militant bodies. Russia has taken unprecedented security measures for the Games. Holding incident-free Winter Olympics remains a challenge for Russian strongman Putin.